ACT 1: Tamino, a young traveler who is passing through the Queen of the Night’s kingdom, is pursued by a fire-breathing beast. After he faints with terror, three ladies—soldiers of the Queen—come to his rescue and spear the beast. When Tamino regains consciousness, Papageno, a good-hearted but arrogant bird catcher, claims credit for killing the fire-breathing beast. The Three Ladies reappear and punish Papageno for this lie by locking his mouth with a padlock. They show Tamino a picture of the Queen’s daughter, Pamina, whom they say has been kidnapped by an evil man, Sarastro. Tamino falls in love with the picture and promises to rescue the beautiful girl. To help him he is presented with a Magic Flute and Papageno is given a set of Magic Bells.
Tamino and Papageno set off to rescue Pamina, but are separated on their way. Papageno happens upon Pamina with her jailer, Monostatos. Rescuing Pamina, Papageno shows her picture of Tamino, and she in turn falls in love with him.
ACT 2: Sarastro, who is not, in fact, evil, believes that Tamino is ready to undergo a series of trials as initiation into Sarastro’s brotherhood and to prove his love for Pamina. Tamino successfully completes the three trials (of remaining silent, of walking through fire, and of walking through water), while Pagageno does not. Upset at his failure and disheartened by his inability to find a wife, Papageno contemplates suicide but is stopped by the three Spirits who introduce to him a girl of his dreams, Papagena. Guided by the wicked Monostatos, the Queen of the Night makes an attempt on Sarastro’s life but fails. Sarastro, continuing to pursue a doctrine of forgiveness, holds out his hand to her offering reconciliation, but she refuses. Sarastro, along with the two sets of lovers, celebrates the dawn and the triumph of good over evil.